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The Weight of Nations: Material Outflows from Industrial Economies, is the second product of a remarkable collaboration between the World Resources Institute and research partners in Europe and Japan. Our task has been to document the materials that flow through industrial economies, and to develop sets of national physical accounts that can be used alongside national monetary accounts. In addition, we have developed indicators of material flows that complement economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 1997, the first report, Resource Flows: The Material Basis of Industrial Economies, documented material inputs to industrial economies, and showed that the Total Material Requirement of major OECD countries (Germany, Japan, The Netherlands and the U.S.A.) is between 45 and 80 metric tons per capita annually. This new report completes the material cycle. It documents the relatively modest quantities of materials that are recycled or added each year to stock in use (largely in the form of infrastructure and durable goods), and the materials that are quickly returned to the environment as pollution or waste, with potential for environmental harm. The report shows that, in the five countries studied, between one half and three quarters of resource inputs to the economy are returned to the environment as wastes within a year. It further shows that, despite waste reduction measures and significant improvements in the efficiency of material use, the overall quantities of wastes flowing into the environment each year have continued to grow. Much greater improvements in energy and materials efficiency will be required if modern industrial economies are to achieve a real reduction in their levels of resource throughput.
Collaborating Partner Institution Wuppertal Institute, Germany; University of Vienna, Austria; University of Leiden, Netherlands; National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan.
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